Warsaw is situated over 300km (200 miles) from the closest sea coast. Therefore, it seems strange that the city should adopt a mermaid as its symbol. Nevertheless, city records as far back as 1609 document the use of a crude form of a sea monster with a female upper body and holding a sword in its claws. The emblem gradually evolved into the present day form. It appears on a shield on every municipal building, on buses, trams and taxis. Needless to say, during 50 years of communist rule, the crown was removed from the "Syrena" and also from the national emblem - the White Eagle.
KING SIGISMUND's COLUMN
You cannot get anywhere near the Royal Castle without noticing the Sigismond's Column. Erected in 1644 to commemorate Kind Sigismond III Vasa, this impressive structure honours the ruler who on the turn of 16th and 17th cent. moved from Cracow to Warsaw. Levelled to the ground during the Warsaw Uprising and rebuilt after the war (pieces of the original column, destroyed during WWII, are also on display here). The statue of the king is original - it fell down however it was not destroyed.
PALACE OF CULTURE AND SCIENCE
Dominating the city skyline, the fearsome Palace of Culture (PKiN) towers at just over 231 metres in height - making it the tallest and largest structure in Poland. Commissioned by Stalin as a 'gift from the Soviet people,' it was originally interpreted as a reminder from Moscow that Big Brother really was watching. To this day it still stirs mixed feelings from locals and architecture buffs, and the collapse of communism even saw calls to demolish it. Designed by Soviet architect Lev Rudnyev (also responsible for Lomonosov University in Moscow), it is a fabulous example of socialist era architecture and also incorporates several more traditional styles.
Built using an estimated 40 million bricks and housing 3,288 rooms, the vast Palace can allegedly be seen from a distance of 30km. Originally intended to serve as the Communist party HQ, the multi-purpose building currently houses museums, restaurants, theatres, conference halls, offices etc. Most recently, the highest clock tower in the world has been added to the structure and visitors should pencil in a visit to the viewing platform on the 30th floor.
WARSAW UPRISING 1944
By 1944 with the tide of war turning, and their resources and morale seemingly in disarray, German forces had begun a strategic retreat from Warsaw. The Home Army (Poland's wartime underground movement) launched a military strike with the aim of liberating Warsaw and installing an independent government.The battle lasting 63 days had cost the lives of over 20,000 troops and some 150,000 civilians. With the uprising defeated, Hitler ordered all remaining civilians to be expelled, and surviving buildings to be numbered in their order of importance to Polish culture and systematically dynamited. The darkest chapter of Warsaw's history had been written. On the 60'th anniversary of this event (1 of August 2004) The Museum of Warsaw Uprising has been opened.
DISTRICT OF PRAGA
Warsaw's eastern suburb, Praga, has long been regarded as off-limits to Western visitors. Often painted as the bastion of the criminal underclass, Praga is actually enjoying a snail-like renaissance, and as such offers visitors a combination of strange sights and sounds. Although in a sorry state of disrepair, much of Praga survived the war. Nowadays, to walk around the bullet-scarred tenement houses found by the riverside is to immerse yourself in pre-war Praga. The oldest surviving residential building in the district can be found on Targowa street.